It’s a Wonderful Life RADIO THEATRE

A peculiar coincidence

X-CR IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE PRE-PUB 2019Capital Repertory Theatre in downtown Albany is presenting something called It’s a Wonderful Life: Live from WVL Radio Theatre from November 22 to December 22.

The description reads: “Meet George Bailey and all the residents of Bedford Falls as you’ve never seen—or heard— them before! Based on the classic Frank Capra film, this story comes to life as a live, 1940s radio broadcast. Five actors give voice to all the memorable Bedford Falls characters, accompanied by sound effects and music created live on stage.”

As part of my subscription to Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, I picked this show. But my wife wanted to go, and my daughter agreed to. We couldn’t get three seats together, so I sat with my daughter.

But the house was only half packed. On December 1, a winter storm was predicted. As we left church around 1 pm, there was a crew from The Weather Channel setting up at the entrance of Washington Park at State Street and Henry Johnson Boulevard. It seemed peculiar then since only a few flakes had fallen.

It was one of those peculiar coincidences. The premise of the play was that most of the cast of the radio theatre was snowed in while out of town. The sound effects guy decided that the show must go on, and recruited the station manager’s daughter, and two actors still in the area, to do all of the parts.

This included performing the commercials for Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, Pepsodent toothpaste and Chiquita bananas. Not only do I remember the ads, but I also have the clips on a CD.

Have you seen the movie?

One’s enjoyment, I suppose, depended partly on one’s knowledge of the source material. My daughter has never seen the film about how Angel Second Class Clarence attempts to earn his wings. My wife, who turned me onto the movie, had some difficulty keeping track of all the minor characters the four actors played. It worked rather well for me.

incidentally, my wife sat next to the mother of the young woman who played the station manager’s daughter. The mom flew in from Seattle. She and my wife had a lovely chat about the life of a traveling performer.

Then we drove home, very slowly. State Street hill was mighty treacherous to climb. A car was spinning its wheels by the state Capitol at Hawk and Washington. It is possible that a couple red lights were, um, ignored.

Nippertown: “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live From the WVL Radio Theatre” Brings Christmas to Capital Repertory Theatre.

The Book of Mormon, more theater

Think the Tonys for the under-20 crowd

Book of MormonMy family goes to the theater quite often. Capital Rep in downtown Albany is a “287-seat professional regional theatre [which] operates under regulations dictated by Actors’ Equity Association.” It’ll be moving four blocks away later this year.

Proctors Theatre in downtown Schenectady is an old old vaudeville venue with about 2600 seats. I have an odd attachment to the place, because when the powers that be decided to renovate the building back in 1978, I worked there on the second floor for the Schenectady Arts Council for several months.

Besides being a reminder for ME of what I’ve seen, i’m hoping to drop some information for you, in case you come across these shows.

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Cap Rep, December 23: “A sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set two years after the novel ends, MISS BENNET continues the story, only this time with bookish middle-sister Mary as its unlikely heroine.”

If it is a seasonal trifle, it is a very good one, with a lovely assortment of classical music pieces interspersed, played by the actors. There will be a half dozen productions in 2019 in the US and Canada, and it’s worth seeing if it comes to your area.

School of Rock, Proctors, February 10. I never saw the movie with Jack Black. The three of us liked the musical a lot, especially that narrative that you have to really LISTEN to your kids. It was on Broadway for about three years, and has been touring since September 2017, alas, ending in San Jose, CA this week.

High School Musical Theatre Awards, Proctors, May 11. Think the Tonys for the under-20 crowd. Our family had its rooting interests.

Sweet Charity from Albany High School got four nominations, getting one, for the orchestra. Beauty and the Beast from Catskill High School, and starring one of my nieces, got one nomination but did not win. Still, the other talent onstage was tremendous and the ceremony was very much worthwhile.

The Book of Mormon, Proctors, May 15. Back story: last time this show played in the area, in 2014, our daughter was sick in the hospital. Since my wife had stayed with our daughter the night before, I suggested that I should stay at the hospital so she could see the performance.

My wife went; she didn’t like it, finding it too coarse. This time, I went by myself, ON OUR ANNIVERSARY, no less. I thought it was quite funny and said a lot about stereotypes, religious imperialism, and the power of myth. The tour is continuing at least through August 2020.

Hunchback of Notre Dame; Ring of Fire

Josh D. Smith, the music director of Ring of Fire, was music director at Mac-Hadyn for nine years.

ring of fireIt’s obviously for my own sake, not yours, that I review shows that my family sees ON THE LAST DAY OF THE PERFORMANCE.

We went to Mac-Hadyn Theatre in Chatham on August 5 to see The Hunchback of Notre Dame. My daughter kept correcting my wife’s pronunciation of the last word in the title; it DOESN’T rhyme with Mame.

Odd thing about the story. I’ve never read the book. Somehow, I had never seen the Disney adaptation BUT I own the soundtrack on CD. I’m fond of that music, particularly The Bells of Notre Dame and Hellfire.

The production was great, as usual. But what I should mention more often is the fact that when the minor characters are in the aisles leading to the tiny stage, they remain in character, not just waiting for their entrances.

And these people can SING! And, seemingly, singing right to the audience, and enjoying our appreciation of their vocal prowess.

On August 12 at Capital Rep downtown, we saw Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash. Coincidentally, Josh D. Smith, the music director of the show, was music director at Mac-Hadyn for nine years.

There were six musicians (plus the drummer, cordoned off) on stage, singing, playing multiple instruments – at least three of them played the upright bass. I was surprised to see a choreographer, Freddy Ramirez, listed, but there WAS a lot of movement on stage.

The first act was more biography, using the songs to tell John R. Cash’s story – and the latter, more of a jukebox musical. But the second act had the a cappella The Far Side Banks of Jordan, which was stellar.

I didn’t know this until afterwards, but there was a
1996 Broadway version of this show, which flopped after less than five dozen performances. This iteration has been whittled down in length, and from various reviews, for the better.

I was personally disappointed that Hurt, Johnny’s last great song, didn’t make the cut, but Ring of Fire. having nothing to do with volcanoes and earthquakes, was a monumental achievement.

Musical review: She Loves Me

I’m really surprised that I was totally unaware of She Loves Me, the musical that my wife, my daughter and I saw at Capital Rep in Albany on Christmas Eve. I recognized only one song, the title tune.

It was first performed on Broadway in 1963, with the late, legendary Barbara Cook in the lead role of Amalia and a guy named Daniel Massey, son of Raymond Massey of Dr. Kildare fame, as Georg. The lecherous Steven was played by Jack Cassidy, father of David and Shaun. There have been three revivals, most recently in 2016.

Moreover, the music was by Jerry Bock and the lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, the composers of my second-favorite musical ever, Fiddler on the Roof. She Loves Me is based on a 1937 play called Parfumerie by Hungarian writer Miklos Laszlo.

Before She Loves Me, there was the 1940 movie The Shop Around the Corner with Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart. Then was the movie In the Good Old Summertime (1949) with Judy Garland and Van Johnson, music by George Stoll and Robert Van Eps. The 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, mines the same basic plot.

And that is: guy meets gal, who pretty much dislike each other from the get-go, as she is hired to work in the perfume shop where he’s been working for a decade and a half. Yet they’ve been corresponding fervently through a lonely-hearts club.

The Cap Rep production featured a nifty set, terrific costumes, and great, often stylish songs that generally advance the plot.

Amalia is played by actress Julia Barrows. Independently, my wife and I decided that she reminded us a little of Cate Blanchett physically. In the story from the local paper, Barrows said she first saw She Loves Me at a performing arts high school that her older sister attended.

“I have always wanted to do this show,” she said. “It’s the musical that made me fall in love with theaterand say, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.'” And it showed.

Our month of theater, or theatre, if you will

“‘Beautiful’ could have easily been nothing more than another cliched jukebox musical gathering together the hits by songwriters of the Brill Building era.”

We go to the theater a fair amount, but the first half of April 2017 was quite the outlier.

Sunday, April 2: The Little Mermaid – Catskill High School (three of us)

One of my nieces was in her fifth production, and the three of us have seen them all. This was her largest role yet, playing Flounder. She was quite good, actually, and I say this not out of familial loyalty.

In general the girls were better singers than the boys. Ariel’s sisters were fine as were Ursula’s assistants. But the hits were Sebastian (Edward Donahue), Ariel (Ade Spencer) and especially Ursula (Anna White).

Thursday, April 6: The Sound of Music – Proctors Theatre, Schenectady (three of us)

Proctors has had Broadway-quality productions for a number of years, and this was no exception. The trick with the musical is that the movie is so imprinted in the brain. My Favorite Thing is sung at the abbey, Do-Re-Mi at the Trapp villa, and The Lonely Goatherd in Maria’s bedroom, when she calms the children freaked out by the thunderstorm.

While the two leads (Charlotte Maltby, Nicholas Rodriguez) are fine, and the children are amazingly good, the largest applause went to Melody Betts as Mother Superior after she sang Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

We bought tickets for next season’s shows, including Fun Home, The Color Purple, Finding Neverland and On Your Feet! (the Gloria Estafan story). Buying a subscription THIS year will mean getting dibs on buying toicxkets for Hamilton in 2018-2019.

(Only somewhat off topic: Alison Bechdel is Vermont’s cartoonist laureate. She created Fun Home.)

Saturday, April 8, 2017: They Built America: The Workers of the Erie Canal – local school (two of us)

This is a Capital Rep show commemorating the 200th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the engineering feat that went from Albany to Buffalo. “Meet the real men, women and children, the politicians, farmers, merchants and laborers who…[built] the Erie Canal.” There are four actors, and three of them, the two men and one of the women, play multiple parts. It was quite good, about an hour long and suitable for children.

The Daughter should have come.

Sunday, April 9: Oliver! – Albany High School (two of us)

This was, aside from some occasional sound problems, extraordinarily good. I was’t familiar with the story, though I sang Consider Yourself in glee club in high school. It’s a dark, sordid, violent tale.

The standout were the terrifying Bill Sykes (Ackazemas Myers), the show-stopping singer Nancy (Williemae Fiddemon), and the shifty Fagen (Raphael Cohen), who had a fun bit with the violinist in the orchestra. Oliver was played by sixth-grader Hassan Laing who was good, but occasionally miked badly.

Saturday, April 15: Beautiful: the Carole King Story – Proctors Theatre, Schenectady (two of us)

I saw this on the calendar months ago and said, Who scheduled this for Holy Week?” It’s only on the Wednesday through Sunday. I have to sing or rehearse or travel the other days. Based on the packed house for this matinee, many folks were in the same boat.

Just from casual conversation with the folks around the Wife and me, it was clear that almost everyone knew the Tapestry album from 1971 but few were familiar with the songwriting of Carole King (the wonderful Julia Knitel) with husband Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) well before that, competing to get their songs pitched to the right singer or group that might make their songs #1.

As Greg Haymes noted in Nippertown: “‘Beautiful’ could have easily been nothing more than another cliched jukebox musical gathering together the hits by songwriters of the Brill Building era, i.e., ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ (Leiber and Stoller) or ‘Leader of the Pack’ (Ellie Greenwich). But thanks to some smart, comic dialogue by Douglas McGrath, deft direction by Marc Bruni and strong, all-around performances by the cast, ‘Beautiful’ is a snappy musical that rises above the level of the usual jukebox musical expectations.

“But it’s not all about King, and the title of the show is something of a misnomer. The secondary couple – portraying the songwriting team of Cynthia Weil (Erika Olson) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) – and their music is crucial.”

Yes, it wasn’t just a Kingfest, as the early “1650 Broadway Medley” had songs from Neil Sedaka (singer of “Oh, Carol”), Leiber and Stoller, Phil Spector and many others. The Mann/Weil hit You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling was a standout.

But Act 2 belonged to the former Carole Klein. I LOVED this show.